Vail Resorts to help restore Hayman fire area
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – Vail Resorts Inc. is shifting money it once used to buy wind energy credits to contribute to a $4 million, three-year project to restore habitat harmed by Colorado’s worst wildfire in history, the company announced Monday.
Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service said they would each contribute $750,000 over three years to the restoration project. The National Forest Foundation is raising the remaining $2.5 million.
The Hayman fire destroyed 600 buildings, including 133 homes, as it burned trees and vegetation on about 215 square miles in 2002. Erosion from burned areas caused sediment to build up around Cheesman Reservoir, threatening a main source of water for Denver homes.
Most of the work would focus on about 70 square miles of the most severely affected areas in four watersheds feeding the Upper South Platte River. Plans include planting more than 200,000 trees, plus willows, dogwood, grasses and sage to restore river areas.
The project also aims to enhance trails and restore river habitat for fish and threatened species like the Montane skipper butterfly.
The goal is to finish before the 10th anniversary of the Hayman fire in 2012.
Vail Resorts expects the effort could mean jobs for area youth.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a written statement that public-private partnerships like the one announced Monday would help make forests more resilient to climate change, protect water resources and improve forest health while creating jobs.
National forests, which are home to several Colorado ski areas, are key to the state’s tourism industry but also to supplying drinking water.
About 65 percent of the water people use, whether on farms or drinking water, comes from watersheds under the management of the U.S. Forest Service, said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables of the Forest Service.
About 75 percent of the water supply in Colorado comes through national forests, he said, adding: “The mountains are the water towers of the West.”
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said that as the largest tourism company in Colorado, it has an obligation to protect forest health.
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The fire, now the fourth largest in Colorado history, has quickly spread into difficult terrain north of Granby and into Rocky Mountain National Park.